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This article is taken from PN Review 143, Volume 28 Number 3, January - February 2002.

Milton and Modern Poetry: A Question David Gervais

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones
The labouring of an age in piled stones,
Or that his hallow'd relics should be hid
Under a starry-pointing pyramid?

i


From Pope to Bridges Milton was an inescapable presence in English poetry, sometimes an inspiration, sometimes a caution, sometimes more like the ghost in a haunted house or a grand albatross hung around poets' necks. His formidable shade looms behind poems as different as Thomson's Seasons and Collins's odes, Wordsworth's sonnets and the Prophetic Books of William Blake. At times, it feels as if one were reading a poem by two poets, a nominal author with Milton invisibly dictating the style. Witness Wordsworth's:

Milton! Thou should'st be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness...

                                                     ('London, 1802')

or Keats's

Ere half this region-whisper had come down,
Hyperion arose; and on the stars
Lifted his curvèd lids, and kept them wide
Until it ceas'd; and still he kept them wide:
And still they were the same bright, patient stars.
Then with a slow incline of his broad breast,
Like to a diver in the pearly seas,
Forward he stoop'd over ...


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